With recent events sparking a global movement for racial justice, I have noticed a counterproductive trend in activism lately. Amongst liberals, there seems to be a race to voice the most progressive thinking while simultaneously condemning those who don’t share the same exact viewpoint. The overzealous, unforgiving and myopic attitude of many woke activists in PC culture can alienate those who want to help support but not in a way deemed “appropriate” by this sub-culture. In effect, a dangerous herd mentality has emerged in which sheep blindly following the woke flock undermine the proliferation of diverse viewpoints that is so valuable especially now, during a movement that calls for a larger conversation on structural racism and inequality.
Before I begin, I want to make it known that I myself identify as a progressive liberal and can understand the concerns of woke activists who are upset with the lack of effective support. However, I do not agree with their way of expressing these concerns.
It’s frustrating to see people criticize activism strategies that are different from theirs. One example I’d like to bring to light is the argument that Asian Americans are stripping away the importance of Black Lives Matter, as made by a non-black person. Many of the points made in this argument frustrated me, but the main claim of the argument was that the slogans and content Asian Americans use to support BLM are self-centered and at best performative. This is a valid concern, especially with the common backlash of “all lives matter” and the unfortunate anti-blackness in the Asian community. I also agree wholeheartedly that we should not be posting our support just to accumulate self-praise and to avoid criticism for silence on social media. Posting on BLM just because everyone else is doing it is not a meaningful way to reflect on our role in anti-racism and to stand in solidarity with our POC brothers and sisters.
This argument further claims that we Asian Americans shouldn’t use the recognition of our benefits and privileges as a way to show support because doing so reduces the significance of BLM and perpetuates “transactional allyship” that centers ourselves in the movement. The fact remains, however, that the very civil rights movement that brought down Jim Crow and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also spurred the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. This act ended the race-based immigration quota system and paved the way for immigrants of color to establish themselves in America. Publicly acknowledging that we have benefited isn’t about selfishly centering ourselves in the movement for black lives. It is about educating the Asian community on why this movement matters and overcoming the anti-black sentiment that often exists among older Asians. It is about asserting how our experience as an entire community is connected to BLM, and why we’re here to support. It is about understanding our role in this movement by reflecting on our history so that we can practice stronger, more powerful solidarity.
In a way, this argument is telling Asian Americans to stop recognizing the impact of BLM on their identity and to stop using their identity as a way of showing support. How is this productive? It’s much more powerful to show that a whole community, especially one that has existing anti-blackness, is in full support of black lives. Unfortunately, I see many people agreeing with or becoming afraid of the criticism and condemnation from non-black people on how people should show their support. This silences those who want to show support, but are afraid of being shamed for not being progressive enough to support in the “correct way”. We shouldn’t let non-black people dictate how to show our activism. Instead, we should be listening to those who are directly impacted by the racial injustice in America and who are scared to walk the streets simply because of the color of their skin.
One of the core elements of activism in the Asian-American community is spreading awareness of anti-blackness sentiment and educating others that black lives matter. It is important to recognize that we as a minority face only a fraction of the injustice that black people have historically faced in America and still live with on a day-to-day basis. And because of this, collectively showing up for the entire Asian-American community to support black lives is so much more powerful than just individually saying black lives matter. In unity, we are creating a compelling message that amplifies the importance of black lives and how their contributions to America are met with racial injustice.
It is also unsettling to see people pressuring others to donate when they have little to no knowledge of what others have done to support the movement. Yes, it is definitely good to spread awareness of different funds people can donate to, but people shouldn’t be condemned for not donating. We need to keep in mind that everyone’s financial situations are different and that some may not have the means to donate. Even though some people don’t donate or cannot donate, there are other ways to show their support. There isn’t one correct way to support racial justice.
In the end, we are all fighting for the same thing. Instead of fighting each other on what is the most progressive or correct, we should be fighting together in enlightening those who don’t even see the institutionalized racism and how wrong it is. Yes, there are problematic takes on BLM that should be brought to light, but that is a separate issue from criticizing different methods of activism. I know that my voice will not reach everyone, but I really do hope those who are reading this can understand my perspective on this issue and reconsider their actions before perpetuating this counterproductive culture.